After skipping the twenty-year anniversary of Cornerstone, I decided I was up for another year of the festival. I would be riding with Jerry in the K-Rad Aztek, so that made it a little bit easier of a decision. This year, Cornerstone started out with quite the opening act for me. Before we left Atlanta, we saw The Lost Dogs at a show at Eddie's Attic on Tuesday night. Mike Roe, Terry Taylor, and Derri Daugherty were joined by Steve Hindalong as the band covered many of the individual's band songs (77's, The Choir, DA) and also a medley of Lost Dogs songs. It was a nice way to get things rolling and also makes it a little less of a hard decision to pass them up if I go see P.O.D. on the mainstage.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 30
Wednesday's drive is thankfully, fairly eventless and peaceful. You can't really ask for more. You know the drive is going to be long and through endless cornfield after cornfield, so really, just a drive with no car breakdowns, flat tires, and such is considered an achievement in my book. We flew along the freeways until we reached Springfield where the rest of the trip is along farm roads lit up by fireflies on each side. We roll into our dorm at Western Illinois early in the evening and go to Wal-Mart to pick up a nice pink, plush rug for Jerry and assorted stuff for me. I forgot a pillow, flashlight, and towel, so we have now already made our second trip to Wal-Mart before the festival has even started. Oh, the humanity.
THURSDAY, JULY 1
Thursday morning starts early as we get out to the farm to beat the traffic of incomers on the first day and go to the RMC BBQ. We arrive to somewhat omninous weather as black clouds roll by. Most of our group that we hang out with, the Behm's, Gina, Steve, and Becky have set up camp already. Matt and Glenn will be staying in the dorms with us. The Tooth and Nail schedule has predictably been all switched around. The only Tooth and Nail band I really wanted to see today, Watashi Wa, isn't at the festival. Bummer. We sit around at the press tent and crack jokes and such during the BBQ. The RMC BBQ has really broken into three or four distinctive groups as it really no longer is for the rec.music.christian, but now invites members of nearly every "cool" band's mailing lists, so naturally, the group tends to divide up. It's a very different feel from the original RMC BBQ where everyone at least knew each other's screen names from the USENET. Now, I don't know if anyone at the BBQ actually even reads rec.music.christian anymore.
To start the day off, I wander over to the Encore 2 stage to hear Holland, uh, no wait, The Lonely Hearts, no wait, it really is Holland. (By the way, there is no relation that I know of to the band) They play a set of melodic rock. Even if I can't figure out what their name is, they are enjoyable enough and actually end up being one of the better shows at the whole festival! The guitar player even sported a Journey tour shirt! Up next is Slow Coming Day, who are OK, but after hearing one of their songs on a sampler, I was really hoping for more. They are followed by the punk-pop band, Ace Troubleshooter. On the upside, there seem to be more melodic punk/pop bands this year, but they seem to be interchangeable. Well, after roasting in the heat, we decide to break out a quick trip to Wal-Mart (third trip this week) and then once I'm back on the festival grounds, I enjoy a ribeye sammich.
Reliant K takes the mainstage dressed up for winter with inflatable snowmen and polar bears around the stage. Another punk/pop band, they make a nice start to the mainstage on a very balmy evening. The final band Switchfoot, puts on a great show to close out the mainstage tonight, even if the sound was suspect. (This will be a recurring theme throughout the festival this year. The sound at mainstage was very disappointing. It almost sounded as if they were trying to be as loud as previous years with less speakers, so everything sounds overdriven.) We thought of seeing The OC Supertones on the Encore stage, but never make it out there. Instead, we sit around the campsite and enjoy the company and amuse each other. I would spend more time this year just hanging out with friends, but I did get to wander some and check out new bands. With nothing else going on the in the evening, we don't stay terribly late.
FRIDAY, JULY 2
We show up early again today to start off the day. Early sprinkles of rain cool off the grounds before lunch and the folksy music of Miranda Stone (featuring the first appearance of RMC'er and Guitar Tech to the Stars, Jeff Elbel on bass). The quirky set includes a Collective Soul cover and typical bizarre humor from Miranda. I sit through a couple minutes of The Urban Hillbilly Quartet (strangely, their first appearance at Cornerstone was as a five-piece, and this year they are three-piece, so I don't know where the Quartet part comes in) before heading over to see a new band called The Myriad as the rain mists. They do a decent show with a cover of Rush's "Tom Sawyer" (though it's a testament to Rush that a five-piece band does only a fair job of covering a song done by a trio) After their show, it's over to the Gallery tent where All Things Bright and Beautiful does a show somewhat like early Radiohead (I guess that's accurate, I don't know Radiohead very well) The band features Lee Bozeman of Luxury and he even debuts a new Luxury song at the end of the set. The rain begins to fall a little harder as the crew sets up the stage for Ric Hordinski. The Gallery tent this year is run by Paste Magazine and MC'ed by Atlanta's own Joe Kirk, and of course, Jeff Elbel is the guitar tech for the stage for the entire festival.
Actually, Jeff Elbel ends up getting a free set to do, filling time as Ric's car breaks down on the way to the fest. Jeff does a solo set of most of his songs from his band, Ping and it had to be somewhat encouraging that not many people left the tent while he played (maybe they were all confident that Ric would eventually show up) given how he threw the show together on the fly. About 45 minutes to an hour late, a car with Ric and his band shows up and the band takes the stage immediately with no sound check, not even any tuning, and they sound incredible! Ric plays "Circle of Quiet", "Womb of God" and more with his drummer and bass player. Great show!
Of all places, Bill Mallonee delivers a solo set at the tiny "Gender Equality" seminar tent where he plays along with his guitar and harmonica, covering mostly new songs, but throwing out a couple of his classics here and there. It's a little strange to see Bill playing in such a small tent before such a small crowd after all of the packed Gallery tent shows from past years. Bill played a much longer set than I would have expected.
Bryan and Angela serve us dinner and cheesecake!
After swinging through the Moneychanger's Tent to pick up some CD's, I walk over to see L.A. Symphony. The four rappers are OK, there wasn't else much to see and they were more entertaining than the screaming bands. During the show, the heavens open up and the rain pours down. Suddenly, this becomes the most awesome show at the entire festival it's not in the rain! Spoken follows next with some loud rock. As I've not so subtlely hinted, there are a lot of bands this year with singers that sound like they've just had their foot shot off. Call it the "Linkin Park Syndrome." Spoken has some of that, too, but they are melodic enough to contain the rage but still have some musical quality to it.
Over the Rhine goes on the Gallery stage at midnight. I wrote an extended review of that show. It's good to see them performing again after taking most of the first half of the year off. Great way to end the night.
SATURDAY, JULY 3
Rain is pouring down today and looks like it might last all day. The day starts out with an unusual seminar about sexuality by Bill Mallonee, Brenda Mallonee, Miranda Stone, and Annie Quick. Odd. That's all I can really say about it. I swing over quickly to the merch tent to say hello to Linford and Karin of Over the Rhine. I normally sound like an idiot when I speak to them, and once again I succeed. Anyways, from there its over to the press tent where Further Seems Forever is having a press conference. The Pompano Beach-based band has just picked up John Bunch of Sensefield as their new singer. The band changed drastically since their old days as Strongarm in the old Cornerstone days. Still, I'm looking forward to seeing them tonight. P.O.D. is supposed to be next, but is late. There's no one else I'm dying to see, so I'm just waiting to see if they show up. Well, they never do, moving their press conference to 5:30 later in the day. Rain has stopped, and while it's a little muddy, it's not so uncomfortably hot. Maybe the storms are gone for good. Oops, maybe not. Glenn says the weather radio says more storms are on the way. The Lost Dogs do show up for their press conference! They have put togheter a new album called Mutt which features re-done versions of each individual's bands (The Choir, The 77's, DA) They seemed to enjoy working on the album so much, they might do another album like it again. The Choir will be creating a new album for this fall and Mike Roe is working on the 7&7 is type of album with bass player Mark Harmon. Terry is working on a soundtrack for the Nickelodeon show "Cat Scratch" Lots of fun from three veterans of the Cornerstone scene.
We wander over to the Impromptu Tent to catch a few minutes of Yellow Second (comprised of two former members of Five Iron Frenzy) before heading over to the New Band Stage to see The Urban Sophisticates who are a mix of rap with a live band behind them and a lot of funk. They are very good! From there, we go over to catch Copeland, another of the many Tooth and Nail punk-pop bands here. We walk back to the press tent and pass right by the members of P.O.D. (which is pretty funny, given how close the management has guarded them from the common rabble at Cornerstone). The drummer even says to us, "Sweet weather, yo!" I'm too white to give any good answer.
Oh, no! The cows are on the loose in the parking lot next to the press tent! Some people take golf carts out to chase the cows (probably not wise) back into their pasture and out of the field being used as parking. Better watch my steps when I walk back to the car tonight. Only at Cornerstone.
Down to mainstage for Further Seems Forever. The show unfortunately followed a pattern of performances by bands that had an incredible magic in the tent stages that couldn't translate to the main stage. (Burlap to Cashmere, Sixpence None The Richer, and Plankeye all come to mind as bands that died a slow death on main stage) Aside from the terrible house sound (same as the Switchfoot show), the new lead singer was tentative, disconnected from the crowd, and way too high in the mix. The new songs on the upcoming album sounded OK, but a lot of the older songs were out of his range and a real struggle. I'm still holding out hope that the new album will be good based on what I heard, but FSF has a way to go before recapturing that feeling they had in Cornerstones past.
Rain begins to fall again as we walk up to see the end of The Lonely Hearts, as stated before the alter-ego of Holland, who again sound great. This is a pretty good band, whatever their name is. With the raining falling again and everything getting muddier and muddier, I'm wondering if it's worth walking mainstage back to see P.O.D. The show is supposed being recorded for a VH1 special and I'm wondering if a bunch of muddy kids all jumping around in a crowd would be something more fun to watch on TV than actually be a part of. (Yeah, I know, gettin' old.) Well, with the weather improving, we decide to go see P.O.D. The darlings of Cornerstone, they got their start here and now they are back after hitting the big-time with their album, Satellite. The show is a visual spectacle with flames shooting high into the air and fireworks exploding as singer Sonny Sandoval walks among the crowd on the catwalk built a couple years ago. Great show, though once again, the mainstage is plagued by sub-par sound. Better than what we've heard so far this week, but still not great. With the show done, we walk back up to the Gallery stage. Behind us, fireworks celebrate the 4th of July (even if that is tommorrow) and compete with the full moon to light up the sky.
The Alarm finishes off the day with a long, long set of old school rock music reminding me of early U2 and The Clash, but not before sitting through an exasperating poet and his reading. An excerpt of a 45 minute poem? 45 minutes?? I can't imagine any worse torture than enduring that.
SUNDAY, JULY 4
The last day of Cornerstone! Some years I feel like it's too soon to end and some years I feel like I'm exhausted and it can't end soon enough. This year it feels just right. Today should be the last day of Cornerstone and it is. After passing through Macomb and seeing all the flags and of course listening to "Independence Day" by Whiteheart, we head out to the farm for one last day. Today, the heat is starting to get a little oppressive, especially with humidity in the air from all the rain. Of course, it's not Georgia sauna-like humidity, but it's still pretty brutal. The day starts off with a press conference discussing "The State of the Industry" with Joe Kirk (Paste Magazine), Doug Van Pelt (HM Magazine), Chris MacIntosh (Grandfather Rock, of the New York radio show), and the late, but irrepressible Lori Lenz (manager of several bands and wife of drummer Frank Lenz) Discussion starts about how many Christian bands seem to breaking out a bars and clubs and seem to be defecting from the Christian music industry. The industry also seems to be constricting on older, accomplished bands as the market grows slower than in past years. Many artists are going their own way with their own distribution and bypassing labels, thanks to the Internet. Jeff Elbel follows with a press conference talking about his wide range of music that he's working on. (See http://www.marathonrecords.com for more information!)
As the heat continues to rise, we walk over to the Gallery stage for former Burlap to Cashmere lead singer and guitarist, Steven Delopoulos, who plays a nice, short set of folk songs. Not much to see right now, and the heat is such that I just don't feel like moving so I'm sitting through The Regal Line, a rock-a-billy band who drop a couple of Johnny Cash covers, a Hank Williams covers, some Gospel spirituals, and a couple of original songs.
Jeff Elbel and Ping play next. Jeff brings quite the ensemble with him this time with as many as nine people on stage with him. His set includes songs from his newest EP, Eleventh Hour Songbook, and even a dedication "Insensitive Maternity song" to their pregnant singer. I eat my last ribeye sammich of the festival as things finally begin to cool down. While everyone goes to see Miranda Stone's meandering set, I decide to see the Gallery stage trio of Denison Witmer, Unwed Sailor, and Ester Drang. Denison Witmer starts with sparse, intimate music (not all on acoustic guitar, which I would've expected). Following him is the instrumental band, Unwed Sailor who are a welcome change from the beat-yer-brains out bands from most of the festival. Plus, they have a bass player that's not afraid to take the lead of the band and stand out in the mix! The rest of the group returns from Miranda Stone's set, which covers about eight songs over two hours (and she didn't remember all of the lyrics to any of them) including a lot of rambling. The Gallery Stage wraps up with Ester Drang, an abstract, early Radiohead, type of band. No memorable hooks in these songs, but lots of beautiful sounds and rhythms.
To end the festival, we walk down
to main stage one last time to see the Newsboys. I know what
you're thinking. Nashville. Cheese. Processed.
Bland. Corporate. We've all used those words to derisively
dismiss CCM music all week, but you know what? It doesn't have to
all be avante-garde "indie-er than thou" music. There's something
beautiful watching that many people all singing praises to the Lord (even
if it is to a computerized drum beat) At a festival where some
bands seem to downplay their faith in favor of their art, it was refereshing
to see Peter Furler so eloquently and throughly proclaim the Gospel.
In the end, despite all our critcisms and elitism, the worship of God is
the end result of this festival. I couldn't think of a better way
to close the festival out.
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